The city of Austin’s transit agency, Capital Metro, is planning for significant service increases, according to its proposed fiscal year 2017-18 budget.
In February, the agency’s board approved a five-year service plan called Connections 2025 that calls for increasing MetroRapid service starting in August as well as changing and adding several routes starting next June. MetroRail is also slated to see increased capacity when Capital Metro will add new rail cars into service in January.
“We ordered the [new MetroRapid]buses some time ago and they’re in, and we want to put them into service,” said Todd Hemingson, the agency’s vice president of strategic planning. “It was one piece of the overall program that we’re ready to implement.”
Capital Metro’s board heard a presentation Monday on the proposed fiscal year 2017-18 budget. The balanced budget is $1.7 million lower than the FY 2016 budget, primarily because of $8.2 million in savings from FY 2016-17 as diesel fuel prices declined. The agency also needed to fund Connections 2025 projects, Chief Financial Officer Reinet Marneweck said. The financial team said it could only find one previous year—FY 2009-10—when there was a budget decrease.
“We went through multiple rounds of sharpening pencils to find ways to cut costs for Connections 2025,” she said.
However, the agency faces a few challenges in the coming years because the growth in sales tax, which supplies 79 percent of the agency’s revenue, is slowing. The sales tax is expected to only increase 3.5 percent, compared to about 5 percent in FY 2015-16 and about 8 percent in FY 2014-15, according to Capital Metro documents.
Marneweck said the agency also will need to either defer capital projects for FY 2018-19 or look for new funding sources. Unfunded capital projects include $84.4 million for a Leander rail facility to handle additional rail cars, $57.5 million for a new administration building to accommodate growth, $18.8 million for future MetroRapid stations and $162.8 million for other bus facilities.
“We’re less than a 4 percent margin between our revenue and operating expenses, and that and grants cover our capital and/or expansions of service,” Capital Metro board Chairman Wade Cooper said. “We’re in a different era.”
Here are other projects proposed to receive funding in FY 2017-18:
- Westgate Park & Ride: The new facility is a partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation to add 190 parking spaces beneath Ben White Boulevard near the Hwy. 290 and Loop 360 interchange. Construction will begin in late 2017 and will open in fall 2018.
- Increased MetroRapid frequency: In August, Capital Metro will increase the frequency of bus service on its two MetroRapid routes 801 and 803. Weekdays service will run every 10 minutes, and weekend service will run every 15 minutes.
- Connections 2025: Capital Metro is also planning to add several routes to its High-Frequency Route Network that offers bus service every 15 minutes. Other plans include adding two MetroRapid routes for more east-west service and straightening routes to connect better to activity centers. Public outreach begins this fall for projects that will be implemented in June.